If the 1980 baseball season ends Friday -- the day the Major League Players Association has set as a strike deadline -- the Baltimore Orioles would lose approximately $3 million, a source close to the team said.
This figure represents the out-of-pocket costs that the team would have to meet, including the operation of its minor-league system and its front-office payroll.
The team figures to lose about $110,000 in gross revenue from gate receipts and concessions for each game not played. The average ballplayer can expect to lose approximately $750 a day.
All parties agree that whatever the potential losses for individual clubs and players may be, the biggest loser will be the game itself. "There is a danger of lasting harm to the industry," said Richard Moss, the special counsel to the players association. "Some people, for all the wrong reasons, will become angry and will lose interest in baseball. They are going to find that life without baseball is possible."
For some players with diversified portofolios and well-managed investments, life without baseball is possible. For those making the minimum, $21,000, the strike will bring considerable hardship. But players at both ends of the economic spectrum appear to be equally committed.
Money is not the point of the strike, they say, and neither is the money they will lose because of it. "We have to lose our salary to keep what we have right now," said American League representative Doug DeCinces of the Orioles. "It would be much worse to lose our salary and our rights, too."
Nolan Ryan, the $1 million-a-year pitcher for the Houston Astros, would lose about $5,500 a day for the duration of the strike, more than any other player in baseball. "I haven't put a pencil to it," said Ryan, "but strictly on salary, as of today, I'm the highest-salaried ballplayer, and we're going to get docked per day . . ."
Ryan, who is in New York with the Astros to play the New York Mets, expects to attend the final negotiating sessions Thursday."I feel like I'm a product of what the players association represents," he said. "Back in '72, in the first strike, if it had lasted much longer, I would have gone back to Texas to look for another job. I was kind of disenchanged with my career, and if I had left, I probably would not have come back."
Ryan, who was making $24,000 at the time with the California Angels, had to borrow money against his withholding to make it through that 13-day strike. "I really believe that without the players association I wouldn't be where I am today," he said. "I think, as players, we have an obligation to the ones coming up and the ones that played ahead of us to increase the benefits to keep up with inflation."
Many players believe that the owners expected players with the most to lose, like Ryan, to oppose the strike. "I think they underestimated us," Ryan said. "I think they think we're all greedy and money-hungry and just concerned about ourselves."
Dan Graham, the rookie catcher for the Orioles, has been in the majors for two weeks, and will receive his second big-league paycheck Friday. Graham makes $23,000 a year, a little over the league minimum. "I don't have as much to lose as some guys," he said, "and I don't have as much to gain by playing, either."
Graham says he is going to cut down on nights out on the town and hope that he can make up the difference in winter ball. "It's really cool what guys like Ryan are doing. They do have a lot to lose," he said. "Basically, the older players are sticking their necks out for us. If they're for it, I'm for it. It's just a little inconvenience. It isn't going to hurt me."
Graham and Ryan agree on one other thing: the strike will not be a short one."It looks like a six-week deal," Ryan said.
Three players in the major leagues reportedly have strike-proof contracts. For the others, there will be no strike benefits. However, according to Don Fehr, the legal counsel for the players association, the union, anticipating a possible strike, withheld payments due each player from the profits of the 1978-78 licensing program in order to provide a cushion. Each player who had been in the league two full seasons received a check for $1,621 in April of this year.
The owners put aside 2 percent of last year's gate receipts in a financial-assistance fund that "may be used to meet contingencies that may arise during negotiations," according to official documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission when the Orioles were sold.
The $3.5 million fund was invested with a domestic insurance company, which will pay it back to the owners with interest, in the event of a strike, according to the players association.
There have also been published reports quoting New York Yankee owner George Steinbrenner and Boston Red Sox owner Haywood Sullivan as saying that the owners have taken out strike insurance. But Marvin Miller is skeptical. "If you can imagine an insurance company, for a premium of $1,690,000 that will pay out $30 million for a matter that's under the control of the club, that's crazy," said Miller. "I don't believe it."
The owners have also arranged for a $26 million line of credit with Lloyd's of London, said Moss.
Some owners say those provisions, referred to as their war-chest, are a joke. It's not insurance, they say. It's their money and they have to pay it back.
The losses will vary according to the wealth of each club. The Orioles were expecting 150,000 fans to attend the upcoming seven-game home-stand. They could lose $600,000 in gate receipts and concessions from those games alone.
The Orioles receive about $1 million for local television rights to 53 games. Since 22 games have been televised this season, the club has already collected $400,000. But the Orioles will lose approximately $18,000 for each of the remaining games not televised during the strike.
Each of the 26 clubs also stands to lose money on the new four year, $192-million network television package signed last year with NBC and ABC. Sources at the networks say that they will try to reschedule any missed games, but if a long strike makes this impossible, the networks will not have to pay for them.
Sources say that each club could lose $17,000 or each of the Saturday afternoon games missed.
NBC has scheduled a replay of the sixth game of the 1975 World Series, in which Carlton Fisk tangoed down the first base line, for this Saturday, if necessary.
Club owners say that the anticipated revenue from gate receipts, concessions and television rights would be offset to some extent by savings on the player payroll and travel arrangements. But unlike football, where a team could completely shut down, the baseball owners have the continuing out-of-pocket expense of minor league operation. This could amount to $2 1/2 million for the rest of the season for the Orioles, one source said.
DeCinces, who signed a new contract with the Orioles this week, said, "I think there will be about five or six clubs in serious financial problems if there is a lengthy strike . . ."
Asked if he thought the Orioles would be one of them, he said, "Yes . . . and we do not want to see that happen."
DeCinces said Edward Bennet Williams, the new owner of the team, "has done more to avoid the strike than any other owner around. (Ray) Grebey (the owners' chief negotiator) came out and said that two owners, Baltimore and Houston, were not solid. They see the absurdity of what's gone on. If the owners and the players could sit down at the table, not their representatives, we'd sit down and iron it out."